After becoming the must-see cultural phenomenon last year during the pandemic, Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” dominated the Creative Arts Emmys this weekend with nine awards. Scott Frank’s Cold War-era limited series about orphan chess prodigy Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) was honored across the board for casting, cinematography, period costumes, editing, period makeup (non-prosthetic), original dramatic score (Carlos Rafael Rivera), production design, sound editing, and sound mixing.
We’ll have to wait and see if this translates to “The Queen’s Gambit” winning Outstanding Limited Series at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards on September 19. Regardless, Frank assembled a talented team of craftspeople (including cinematographer Steven Meizler, production designer Uli Hanisch, costume designer Gabriele Binder, editor Michelle Tesoro, composer Carlos Rafael Rivera, and sound designer Wylie Stateman) for conveying an almost surreal mood and atmosphere to Beth’s rite of passage.
But the big question for Tesoro was: What is too much chess? The answer: Play the faces more than the chess. And once viewers got their first glimpse of Beth, they were hooked and carried along by the ’60s glam appeal of sex, drugs, alcohol, and rock, as well as the fascination of chess as a metaphor for power and control in a male-dominated sport.
Coming in second was Lucasfilm’s “The Mandalorian” (from Disney+), which commanded seven Emmys, equaling Season 1. Jon Favreau’s virtual production game changer, powered by Industrial Light & Magic’s StageCraft 2.0 inside an expanded LED volume stage, earned awards for half-hour cinematography (Matthew Jensen), original dramatic score (the second straight from composer Ludwig Göransson), prosthetic makeup, sound mixing, special visual effects (for the menacing Krayt Dragon and ice spiders), stunt coordination, and stunt performance.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s “WandaVision” (also from Disney+) was rewarded with three Emmys for its imaginative sitcom-centric world: sci-fi/fantasy costumes, original music and lyrics (“Agatha All Along,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez), and production design (half-hour).
Also winning three Emmys apiece were Netflix’s “The Crown,” which introduced Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) to the royal family saga; Apple TV+’s infectious “Ted Lasso” soccer comedy-drama; and FX’s “Pose,” the groundbreaking series about ballroom culture in the ’80s, which concluded its three-season run. “The Crown” won for cinematography (the second for Adriano Goldman), casting, and editing; “Ted Lasso” scored for casting, editing, and sound mixing; and “Pose” earned its first three craft awards for contemporary hairstyling, costumes, and non-prosthetic makeup.
Other highlights: HBO’s buzzy thriller, “Mare of Easttown,” won for contemporary production design, halting “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” four-year streak. Apple TV+’s “Boys State,” this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner for documentary at Sundance, in which a thousand Texas high school seniors gather for an elaborate mock exercise in creating their own state government, won the best doc Emmy. Paramount+’s “Star Trek: Discovery” earned VFX for a single episode (“Su’kal”). HBO’s “The Flight Attendant” comedy-drama snagged original main title theme (Blake Neely), and HBO’s predominantly Black British drama, “I May Destroy You,” was distinguished for its music supervision.
On the animation front, “Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal,” the 2D auteur’s very graphic pre-historic survival adventure (from Adult Swim/Cartoon Network), captured its first animated program Emmy. In addition, Netflix’s “Love, Death & Robots” anthology from Blur Studios snagged six awards for short form (“Ice”), sound editing, and four juried prizes for individual achievement: Robert Valley, production designer (“Ice”); Patricio Betteo, background artist (“Ice”); Dan Gill, stop-motion animator (“All Through the House”); and Laurent Nicholas, character designer (“Automated Customer Service”).
There were some snubs, however, thanks in part to the dominance of “The Queens’ Gambit.” Chief among them were Amazon Prime Video’s two powerful dramas led by Black creatives in front of and behind the camera: “The Underground Railroad,” Barry Jenkins’ Impressionistic historical fantasy about slavery and emancipation, and “Small Axe,” Steve McQueen’s period anthology about West Indian immigrants living in London. “The Underground Railroad” was denied recognition for any of its five nominations so far (two more categories will be announced at the Primetime ceremony), while “Small Axe” failed to win for its lone nomination: Shabier Kirchner’s gritty cinematography. Additionally, HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” which garnered 11 nominations, only came away with two wins, for sound editing and Courtney B. Vance as Guest Actor in a Drama Series. Also shut out were Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is a first after four seasons, and HBO’s “Perry Mason.”